John Zweifel looks into the White House replica that he and his family created. (Photo by Linda Charlton.)
CLERMONT — While the White House was embroiled in negotiations to avert a potentially catastrophic debt default, a very different sort of presidential event — at a different White House — was taking place in Lake County with little fanfare and no controversy.
After 15 years traveling the country — mainly from one presidential library to the next — the 60-feet long, 10 ton White House Replica of John and Jan Zweifel came quietly home to Clermont. The Zweifels picked it up in April from the Ronald Reagan Library and Foundation in California, where it had most recently been on display, and brought it back to the local Presidents Hall of Fame.
The venerable roadside museum was built in the 1950s in the shadow of Clermont’s famed Citrus Tower. The tower is still there. The citrus it was built to overlook is not. But the little roadside museum most definitely is.
Asked how fast it goes together, John Zweifel responded, “Normally, much faster than this. When I’m setting up in California, I have over 100 volunteers. When it’s your own city, it’s not so easy to get volunteers.”
He was also quick to add, “When I was younger, I could do it in a day.”
The replica officially opened in Clermont on July 4 – not that visitors weren’t touring it earlier. Several guests, as they were exiting the museum, were quick to say, “Wow, I can’t believe I’ve been here before” and “It makes me want to go see the real thing.”
The replica is faithful, even down to decorations on the walls of staff rooms. When new presidents come in and change the decor, the Zweifels follow suit and change their decor to match. When the White House is dressed up for Christmas, so is the replica.
For those who want to see what the Oval Office of past presidents looked like, there are numerous Oval Offices on display, although not as many as there used to be because that 60-foot 10-ton “miniature” takes up a lot of space.
The replica was conceived by John Zweifel as a part of his family’s bicentennial tribute to the nation. It is scaled one inch to one foot. Though the family was originally given permission for the project during the Kennedy administration, it was not until Gerald Ford was president that they were given access to the White House to accomplish the task.
Zweifel said he’s grateful to President Ford for his support of the project, and said he was particularly grateful to former First Lady Betty Ford for the assistance she gave them. Betty Ford died on July 8, at age 93.
Reflecting on the Fords’ role in the creation of the replica, Zweifel said, “It was during the Bicentennial. We could not have had a better administration. I had the support of the First Family.”
The replica had its premiere, fitting, in time for the holidays that year, he noted.
“We opened Dec. 16, 1975 for the Tree Lighting,” he said. “The next day we opened at Lincoln Center.”
The President’s Hall of Fame is located at 123 N. U.S. 27 in Clermont. The museum can be reached at 352-394-2836.

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